The hills and folks

It’s been 3 weeks since we arrived back in Australia, and there’s a lot to take in and share. So I’m going to start small.

I like going on regular runs, preferably first thing in the morning when the air is clear and I can avoid having two showers. Wherever we lived in Göteborg I was able to find a path through a forest, or through town to a creek or around a beautiful lake. I relied on the surroundings to do part of the work of getting me running everyday, to see the seasons pass, the geese return from their winter migration and the berries ripen. I loved the lake most of all, regardless of the season or weather.

A brief moment of sun

Kåsjön

Now I’ve found myself in the hills where I grew up, among forests that would be best described as green and rough, and still familiar as family. Up here (for a relative value of up) the soil is rusty red and gravelly and the trees gnarled. In winter the dust isn’t able to settle so the leaves are glossy green and fragrant, and grasses and weeds are flourishing in the forests and gardens. It’s the best time of year to go on morning runs, before the heat starts to set in and there’s enough chill in the easterly winds to cool the sweat. I’ve started a routine, heading up the hill before turning so I can run partly downhill home, each day going slightly further. The gravel can be tricky and the path is never really flat or straight, swinging around corners and up and down slopes all the way, but I’m starting to learn it.

Morning run

Morning run

I’ve passed many people during my runs, walking dogs or cycling, and all have smiled and said good morning, as it has always been done up here. No longer do I make brief eye-contact and then glance away, concerned at breaking the unspoken Scandinavian code of personal space. That bubble of personal space is much reduced here, and the edges blurred. Strangers strike up conversations on train platforms, locals stare more openly at those who are different, acquaintances make comments that would be rude elsewhere and the young move easily forward to help the elderly. I have also discovered a liking for banter in public, something I’d always felt awkward about. Short questions and greetings have become chats, easy and comfortable, the slang and accent coming back to me bit by bit.

Hovea Falls

Hovea Falls

It feels new and old at the same time, the mundane now a little bit exotic and what was familiar a month ago now foreign.

Old pub in Fremantle

Old pub in Fremantle

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A night of unexpected art

So it has been over a year in Göteborg now, and you know what that means? It’s Kulturnatta again!
Last year we went on a sort of guided tour, arranged by an long-term expat who has sadly left Sweden, from a photography show (possibly more on this in a later post…) to an opera, via interpretive dance and buzzing crowds. It was something like Kulturkalaset, except that it was packed into one day rather than a week. Every performance space was performed on, every gallery was open and any sort of expression of art was on display.

It was the same this year, but we took a different tack, and in the process discovered a new part of the city and a building that could only exist in Sweden.

Used printscreens

Used printscreens

Our evening started at the square next to Stora Teatern, where a clutch of musicians huddled under a tent in anticipation of the rain that had beset Göteborg for a few days. Luckily the rain never arrived, and instead the growing crowd were treated to some wonderful Jewish themed music, from lively dancing songs to melancholic ballads, played on violin, piano, double bass, drum and saxophone. The pianist also doubled as a singer, sometimes using Yiddish, and then switching to her native Danish, then through Swedish to English. I wasn’t the only person to thoroughly enjoy it either, as demonstrated by a couple nearby who almost provided a show by themselves.

By the end of the show most of the gang who were to explore Kulturnatta together had gathered, and we picked up our last member as we began our search for food. It led us all the way across town, though sadly it was a journey almost entirely without eating, as we had forgotten than a Friday night during a cultural event is not a good time to get a free table in the city. In the end we settled on an old favourite, and only worked out towards the end of the meal that we had missed the event we had been aiming for.
Rather than give up, though, we headed to another event further across town, in an area I had not seen before.

Interactive art

Interactive art

Klippan is a little suburb nestled between the E45 and the river, with the Älsborgsbrun looming above. It is also a bit of an artists hub, with Röda Sten sitting solidly under the bridge and a few artist collectives nestled among the maze of tall, red brick buildings.

The first one we found was especially surprising, given that from the outside it seemed to be a castle, with a setting and view that any where else would suggest very expensive apartments. Here, however, it meant galleries, workshops and small art factories, winding around a steep staircase. I suggest having a look for Gamla Älvsborg on Google Maps, and looking at the street view, or if you’re in Göteborg, popping down for a look. It’s unexpected, to say the least.

Artistic folk

Artistic folk

It seems to me to be an example of a type of place that wouldn’t exist anywhere else, where a collective takes over control of a very fine bit of real estate and uses it purely for art, and the sharing of that art. If this sort of thing exists in other places please let me know, because I’m quite curious about how they work and are maintained when property prices are rising and cultural priorities change.

What was even more unexpected, more so even than the workshops and kilns and bronze smelting rooms, was the sudden party. Inside what looked like a storage room was a crowd of people, sitting, drinking and talking while listening to a live band.

An unexpected band

An unexpected band

Among the crowd were men in top-hats and cloaks, drinking from brass tankards and generally acting as if this was perfectly normal behaviour. When the dog arrived with the pensioners, we decided to continue our Kulturnatta explorations.

We found a band playing Greek folk music, swing-dancers, drunk-dancers, the end of a light show more art, tucked away on various floors of the cluster of buildings.

Red Riding Hood was also surprised

Red Riding Hood was also surprised

Even once we had decided to call it a night and waited at the tram stop, we were treated to the toneless humming of an old man with headphones, perhaps deciding to join in on the festivities. He was then replaced by a younger man who, slightly less tunelessly but more annoyingly, sang hits from the Backstreet Boys and other 90s acts in people’s faces.

Maybe it’s an example of how the general community gets involved in art and culture, and uses the opportunity to express themselves.
Or simply alcohol + boisterousness = pop songs sung badly.
Whatever the reason, the evening showed me that art can be found in unexpected places, if you are willing to explore.

(All photos in this post are used with the permission of goddohr31)

Cannons, crepes and a copper mare

Last week Göteborg was transformed from a little town bracing itself for Autumn to cosmopolitan city full of art, food, folks and culture, carrying an umbrella just in case.

The festivities had begun on Sunday, the day that we returned from our Stockholm weekend. My partner slid back into the normal working week and I began the next level of Swedish classes, so plans to visit the Kultur Kalas faded into the background. Whenever I passed through town I’d be aware of some commotion, and a gathering of tents just around a corner. The local papers that I grabbed as I caught my bus to class featured pages of schedules, descriptions of events and reviews, all trying to pull me in.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was finally dropped into the middle of the party, in an authentically Göteborgare way.
We had just finished our evening at a Swedish language cafe, when we tagged along on an exploratory mission to the city centre. Via tram and feet we approached the hub and after turning a corner were suddenly in the middle of a crowd of people, circling, gathering and rushing past food stalls. I completely lost track of where I was in town, and had to rely on the ‘Älg kebab’ and ‘British Fish and Chips’ signs to navigate.
Once we reached the other side of the crowds, we wandered to the main square of Kungsportsplatsen where an audience was gathering in the shadow of Kopparmärra. An American was jokingly threatening the oncoming clouds as his Swiss compatriot tried to sort out wiring and keep the audience distracted. They started their show, acrobatics and music and silliness that had the audience clapping along, but even the most skilled performance couldn’t keep us tied to the stands as the rain began to pour down. After sheltering in a cafe, we used a break to run to a floating restaurant to dry and drink. As the evening wore on we tailed off, facing the rain and still milling crowds for the trip to our warm, dry homes.

A drum band in a canal

A drum band in a canal

In the meantime I read in the paper that a singer I had heard of was going to be performing on Thursday. I had read about Sofia Jannok in Swedish class, an interview in which she discussed the feelings of distance and difference that she felt as a Swede raised within Sami culture. She sings in Swedish, Samisk and English, and is a very strong supporter of native rights and Sami culture, and so my interest piqued, I looked forward to seeing her in person.

On the day of the concert I had fika planned in the city, and as I had not had time before, I decided to get lunch from one of the stalls in Brunnsparken. Drawn by nostalgia and curiosity, I got in the line at the Australian tent, and ordered a crocodile burger. The best way I can describe it is a mix of chicken and fish, and not necessarily in a tasty way.
After fika, during which I was happy to remove the flavour of the crocodile, I wandered around the many displays and activities. Most were for children, who ran around under the supervision of their parents, playing in giant see-through balls or trying out crafts of various kinds. Unlike the crafts that I usually see at such festivals, these were actually engaging and useful, ranging from weaving and carpentry to making porcelain cups. I saw many children and their parents tackling the construction of small wooden carts and twisting strings through looms, with an intensity that I don’t often see for crafts.

As I exited the park, leaving the cries of the children behind me, I saw a crowd gathered along the side of a main road that was fenced off. A closer look showed two sand tracks on the road, and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a pair of horses with trailing buggies flew past. Horse racing along a main road is also something I haven’t seen before at a festival, but I have to assume that people just do things differently here in Sweden.

The winning horse

The winning horse

The crowds, food and festivities continued as I made my way to the concert area, where I settled down to wait for my partner and friends so join me. The atmosphere of festivity was contagious, and the afternoon quickly passed, bringing friends and then Sofia Jannok. She was wonderful, and though I couldn’t understand much of what she said, she had great passion and an ability to yoik. Our evening ended after another journey around the food stalls at Brunnsparken, losing ourselves among the fudge, crepes, goulash and sausages.

A bridge from a canal

A bridge from a canal

Our final visit was on Saturday, which started with an activity that I had been hoping to try for some time.
Göteborg is criss-crossed with canals, some of which were originally the moat of the old city, and for much of the year a small boat makes it’s way under the bridges and through the canals, showing people the city from a different perspective. I had not yet done this, so decided that a day with so much on display in the city and lively crowds wandering around, would be an ideal time. The tour started well, the guide giving us facts I hadn’t known in both Swedish and English, as we ducked under low bridges and waved at those on the land. Soon we were in the harbour, seeing the old heart of the city whose fate now hangs in the balance.

The old harbour

The old harbour

As we rolled over the waves, we were also confronted with a makeshift boat, planks of wood stuck onto two inflated tubes and covered with comfortable sofas and a table. We were also treated to the sight of mooning from some of those enjoying their day out. Aside from their questionable greetings, I would have quite liked to float along on their boat, nibbling snacks and seeing where the boat drifted.

The tour finished and we spent a while walking around, listening to a trio of sisters from Ireland, then an underground rock band from Iran. Smells and sights surrounded as, and as the night approached we had a bite to eat and then walked down the street to the harbour for the final event of the night.

On a stage and mingling around stalls were people in 17th century outfits, some carrying guns and all trying to look authentic. Crowds were gathered on the steps of the Opera House and along the waterside, peering downriver constantly and impatiently. Finally a ship slid out of the distance, tall and graceful even without it’s sails out. Soon after another ship floated towards us, this one with a Danish flag.

Cannon smoke

Cannon smoke

A sudden boom rang out, accompanied by a flash of light, and then the costumed soldiers on the river side erupted into a barrage of shots across the water, backed up by blank, but still deafening, shots from the cannons on the Swedish ship. The Danish ship soon ‘sank’ and was replaced by another, which was also seen off. This repeated a few times to cheers, booms, crashes and flashes as the sun slowly set and cold began to set in. Finally the Swedes won a decisive victory, and the two Danish ships disappeared down the river, to yet more cheers.

The Danes depart

The Danes depart

The excitement passed, we made out way through the crowds to the centre of town, the boom of cannons and taste of exotic food following us home, ending the first but not last Kultur Kalas that we will enjoy here in our not as new home-city.